Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Blade of the Immortal’

Blade of the Immortal poster

Blade of the Immortal | Takashi Miike | November 3rd, 2017

Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike’s 100th film celebrates almost everything that fans of his previous work have come to enjoy. Miike gained fame here in the U.S. with his popular films Audition and Ichi the KillerIt’s quite a feat to have 100 films on your belt, and Blade of the Immortal is a perfect milestone film for Miike. The film is an adaptation of a Japanese manga of the same name. It has almost everything you could want from a martial arts action film. There’s insanely choreographed fight scenes, quirky characters, funny dialogue, and wonderful cinematography. It also has the highest body count of any film I’ve seen this year (other than John Wick: Chapter 2). For every violent moment though, there is a quiet or lighthearted scene.

Blade of the Immortal is the story of Manji (Takuya Kimura), a warrior who cannot be killed. In the opening scene, we see Manji attempt to protect his younger sister Machi from his enemies who want revenge on him. Manji is a skilled samurai fighter but was betrayed by his master. Manji assassinates his master, along with four of his disciples. The rest of his followers track Manji down and kill his sister right in front of him. Manji is able to take on 50 men at once but is badly injured. A strange woman dressed in white walks up to him while he’s dying. She gives him the power of immortal life in the form of parasitic worms, which can band together to repair body parts and can regenerate skin.

Blade of the Immortal still - Manji at home

Decades later, a young girl named Rin goes looking for the legendary warrior that can never die. Her parents were murdered by a skilled warrior named Anotsu Kagehisa (Sota Fukushi). Rin wants Manji’s help in order to avenge her parents. Anotsu is going from village to village to demand that they honor his fighting style in all dojos. The main plot of the film surrounds the idea that certain fighting styles are superior to others. Anotsu uses force and killing to get other dojos to accept his fighting style as the proper one. Rin’s parents refuse to acknowledge Anotsu’s terms, so Anotsu has them killed. Rin eventually finds Manji, and at first, he refuses to help her. She wants Manji to train her, and he eventually agrees because she reminds him so much of his deceased sister.

Blade of the Immortal really gets going at this point. The relationship between Rin and Manji are the highlight of the film. After Logan earlier this year, it was nice to see another relationship like theirs. Rin is totally inexperienced with fighting, where Manji is almost tired of being so good at it. He has scars all over his body and seems rather disinterested in getting involved with anyone. He would prefer to sit alone in his run-down house and drink sake. After a while, of course, Manji starts to enjoy Rin’s company, and the two form a “big brother, big sister” bond.

Blade of the Immortal still - Manji protecting Rin

In between the bonding moments, Manji stumbles upon some of Anotsu’s men and promptly takes them out. These sequences are easily the best part of the film. The fights are creative, funny, and ridiculous. Limbs come off, and the blood flows like crazy. The film follows this particular formula. Manji fights another henchman, then bonds with Rin. It’s not until Rin stumbles upon Anotsu that the film really gets interesting. The audience learns more about Anotsu, and why he’s going on this violent campaign across Japan. There are a few scenes where we actually begin to sympathize with him, which is something I did not expect at all.

Having a well-developed villain really helps Blade of the Immortal have some weight, even in its most cartoonish moments. Some of the characters have hairstyles right out of a 90’s anime film, which adds to the fantasy elements of the film. There are some funny moments of Manji losing limbs and overcoming his opponents in unique and ridiculous ways. The big finale of the film is one of the most epic fight scenes I’ve seen in quite some time. Manji fights over 100 men with swords, and it’s a visual delight to behold. By the end of it, there’s literally a river of blood running through the village.

Blade of the Immortal still - Manji mid-fight

Blade of the Immortal isn’t the most original samurai action film, but it’s a damn entertaining one that has been stuck in my mind for the last week. For every cheesy costume or line of dialogue, there’s a legitimately amazing fight scene. Everything balances out rather well. One complaint I have is that during some of the fight scenes, there’s just a little too much going on. It was hard to see what some of the characters were doing when they’re fighting multiple people at once. That’s just the way it was filmed though. The one-on-one fights are much easier to follow and have less of a “nameless henchman #5” feel.

If you’re a fan of martial arts films and are not too grossed out by excessive sword violence, then you should definitely check out Blade of the Immortal. It’s a ton of fun.

Rating: 8.0/10

Blade of the Immortal had its US debut at Fantastic Fest 2017 and its satellite festivals.